HA NOI (UCAN) -- Many priests from Ha Noi archdiocese and other places inside and outside the country have offered their full support to Redemptorists and Catholics from a northern parish engaged in a land dispute with the government.

"We, the college of priests from Ha Noi archdiocese, would like to express our deepest solidarity with local Redemptorists and Catholics," said a Sept. 4 letter sent to Redemptorist Father Matthew Vu Khoi Phung, pastor of Thai Ha parish in the capital's Dong Da district.

The letter, which 77 priests signed individually, was addressed to local Redemptorists and Catholics. It was formulated during the priests' bimonthly retreat at the archbishop's residence in Ha Noi Sept. 3-4.

"We completely support your peaceful dialogue in respect of the truth and justice all you have been holding patiently in the light of the Good News," stated the priests, who said they have been following recent developments at the parish. Many of them also paid a visit to Thai Ha parish after the retreat.

They said local Redemptorists and Catholics "have been vilified, defamed, accused, brutally suppressed and suffered acts of violence, especially on the evenings of Aug. 28 and 31." Some local Catholics have been detained unreasonably, they added.

Redemptorist Father Pierre Nguyen Van Khai, 38, told UCA News hundreds of local Catholics and eight Redemptorists gathered and said prayers in front of the gate of Dong Da district police station on the evening of Aug. 28 to press the police to release four Catholics arrested that morning. A mobile unit of 160 policemen suddenly arrived in four army trucks, attacked the crowd of Catholics for five minutes with clubs and tear gas, and then arrested 10 people and drove off, Father Khai recalled.

The priest, stationed at Thai Ha parish, said that attack left 50 injured, including many bleeding from wounds and unconscious at the scene. Many women were beaten heavily as they tried to protect the Redemptorists, he noted.

On Aug. 31, some Catholics who gathered at the site to pray in front of Marian statues apparently were overcome by tear gas and had to be carried to the nearby monastery. People on the scene asked policemen to file a report on the incident. Only one policeman admitted he sprayed tear gas, but would not sign any record or statement.

The priests' letter said the attacks have outraged Catholics throughout the archdiocese. "We would like to journey with and pray especially for all of you in the hard time," they stated, adding that they are asking all Catholics in the archdiocese to add their own prayers.

Clergy and laypeople from other dioceses in the country and foreign countries have also sent support messages to the local Redemptorists and Catholics.

Father Joseph Tran Quang Vinh, from neighboring Bac Ninh diocese, asked Catholics in his diocese in a letter to pray during their daily evening prayers for government authorities to resolve the dispute soon in justice and understanding.

In his letter, dated Aug. 28, Father Vinh also urged local Catholics who visit the site and Thai Ha church to pray calmly and avoid words or actions hurting others.

Redemptorist Father Vincent Pham Trung Thanh, provincial superior, sent his Sept. 2 letter to all his confreres, asking them to conduct novenas, nine days of special prayers, to Our Lady of Perpetual Help for the peaceful resolution of the situation. He also urged them to follow developments from Thai Ha parish and to give Catholics in their respective areas correct information on developments there and ask them to pray for a just resolution.

Father Khai said many Catholics from neighboring provinces have been visiting and attending daily Mass at the church and praying in front of the contested land.

"We are not alone because Catholics throughout the country and abroad support our prayers for justice and peace, not for the plot of land. We Religious and laypeople are ready to suffer pains and suppression to work for the common good," he said.

On Sept. 4, Bishops Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Sang of Thai Binh and Joseph Vu Van Thien of Hai Phong visited and prayed in front of the Marian statue at the site.

(Source: UCAN, September 5, 2008)